Much of my recent writing and thinking has been focused on ethicality and moral frames of interpretation; however, in my most recent project, an article detailing the various methodologies of the expression of suffering as characterized by the extremes of sadism and masochism, I ran into trouble trying to fit personal expression into a teleological framework of morality. It’s easy to suggest that people would tailor their personal expressions to fit how they would like to frame the circumstances of their existence, expression being a projection of the self onto reality in an attempt to reinforce the unity of being with one’s own individuality or personality as the foundation. Of course, actions such as these would be necessarily frustrated as one cannot bend reality to fit the subjective framework of one’s own arbitrary beliefs. Though objective reality is imperceptible, the objectivity of real existence is necessarily true and should be taken as a given fact by reality itself. Still, the interdependence between existence and experience by the subject, the self, is not enough for some people to orient themselves and their lives. To assist in this orientation, many people have tried to organize philosophic processes that end in some goal, whether it’s self discovery, the achievement of something which can be considered great or which contributes to others’ fulfillment, or the gaining of something which one did not have before as representative of the growth which that person has undergone. Either way, these categorical markers are the conditions of what is typically considered ethical success, but there’s a rather significant problem that complicates the entire process: Why does existence need to be validated by the accomplishing of a goal or achievement of some end?
Teleological philosophies are philosophies specifically aimed at the fulfillment of a certain criteria for a “good” existence. From Aristotle, we have the conceptualization that if there is a greatest-thing-possible, it is the Highest Good (the Good) which is not just emblematic, but exceptionally identical to realized goodness itself. All things which are deemed good in terms of relational value are in service to the fulfillment of the Good which nothing is greater than. Additionally, if there is any goal which should be sought or quality which should be desired, it is the Good itself seeing as though it is the epitome of value and exists in a non-dualistic, or non relational manner to meaning and fulfillment. If Alan Watts were to describe this thing which we make these abstractions to refer to, he would equate it with “the which than which there is no ‘which-er'”, emphasizing the way in which this value itself transcends the notion of relative values. It could be meaning itself and it is often referred to in religious systems as the highest value of godliness or God itself, but to attempt to conceptualize this non-dualistic principle as an optimization of being is illusory and confuses the principle with how we identify and pursue it.
In my understanding, this greatness that is called the Good, God, or fulfilled being is marked for our perception by the same feeling we associate with beauty. I do not simply mean high aesthetic value, but the very awe-inspiring, undeniable quality of which its reality and primacy cannot be denied. In a visual sense, it is aesthetic beauty. In a physical sense, it is health and pleasure. In a conceptual sense, it is truth beyond merely factual information. Yet, despite being in all of these values, it is none of them singularly.
Teleological logic and philosophies are not devoid of value. Yet, they, like these conceptions of value, are not the totality of greatness. It requires living out. No philosophy alone can reflect the entirety of the beauty or value of existence. Only being characterized by this quality itself can unify one’s consciousness and self with this quality. This is what makes the utilization of chaotic influences for the production of artistic creation possible, and also what makes the conceptualization of truth in a logically coherent set of informative symbols possibles. To describe it by analogy to life and death would be to say:
- When one lives, one ought to live well because there is no other way which is better for the fulfillment of life and living. All things, including death, must serve the fulfillment of life because when one is dead, one cannot exist to derive fulfillment or even suffering at all. This makes life seem to be better or greater than death, but the two must be equalized in order for either to have any meaning at all, for existence to be anything at all. It is better to be able to feel the pains and pleasures of existence and to experience its illusory duality than to not be able to experience for the lack of its existence.
The problem of philosophies that simply aim for the fulfillment of certain ethical criteria is this striving for a good life in spite of death. The habit to put down the negative, for instance, in order to praise the positive as if the sole being of positivity were one’s wish a goal is ironically in service to the negativity which one would be blaming for the lack of goodness. It ignores that truth within the claim stating there are things which are good, things which are bad, but all things together is the being of the Good. If it weren’t for this ability to differentiate positive from negative, there would never be the conception of the positive to begin with. Goodness lies in this being able to differentiate between values. For example, when Adam and Eve learned of the knowledge of Good and Evil, they did in fact become like God because they were able to not just conceive of goodness, but to bring it into being. The price of this was also the bringing into being of all the suffering which would be necessary to equalize or counter-balance this goodness. To limit the value of existence and life to simply the achieving of greatness or the fulfillment of some arbitrary value structure in spite of the failures and suffering that would supposedly oppose its fulfillment is to miss the larger picture, so to speak. Life and death both require each other. Success and failure both require each other. We consider it’s necessity tragic because we know how dreadful suffering is, but this is for the subjective perspective to be able to differentiate and always be aware of where and how fulfillment comes into being. It is true that objectively nothing holds any distinctive value, but it is also true that so long as we are alive, able to experience the duality and differentiation of existence, we will never be able to see or say what the objective reality actually is. To fully escape the duality of existence/non-existence, or the relation of values, is for it and everything else to never exist in the first place.
One cannot escape failure through success, suffering through fulfillment, or death through life. However, if you’d like, you could admire the incredibility of it all and its dependence on you and your own particular existence for its existence and admiration. This is recognizing the beauty of being.
4 thoughts on “The Problem of Purpose: The Attempt to Escape the Duality of Success and Failure”
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Your jungian/existentialist bent is definitely interesting (am I wrong in this assessment?)
Also, question : what is your opinion of Dostoyevsky’s statement which reads “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.”Aren’t we susceptible to mismanaging our sufferings, thereby making us unworthy of them?
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You’re right in that assessment. I’ve been largely influenced by the socratic philosophers, psychoanalysts, existentialists, and phenomenologists.
I don’t think we could somehow suffer more than is applicable or than there is sufficient reason for. I would venture to say that the suffering we experience is directly a result of our actions and attitudes, and if we fail to address our suffering properly, it makes sense to me that it may increase do to frustrated efforts. I think the perception of being unworthy of one’s suffering stems from the idea that we are supposed to maintain a certain equilibrium in a consistent state of consciousness rather than maintaining an equilibrium between our changing states of consciousness, including one’s more prone to or engrossed in suffering. It is not unreasonable to suffer more intensely for the mistakes and failures one experiences, but this would not make you unworthy of them in my opinion. If I had to guess what Dostoevsky was referring to, it would be suffering over the feeling itself that one’s suffering is inappropriate or unreasonable. If you could be certain that you were worthy for your suffering, then you could rationalize that it is not just a matter of your experience, but something you are directly responsible for, and that this sense of control is where people either fall to despair or find some security or stability in their self image. I hope I answered your question well. Thank you for the comment
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Interesting points! I greatly appreciate the reply and looking forward to reading your future content.